Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fastest. Pizza. Ever.

The Canadian Chemist and his lovely wife, the Razor-Sharp Mathematician, bought me a lovely birthday present: pizza stone and peel. The new Physics Kitchen had been without a pizza stone for nine months, and they were pretty tired of hearing my neverending but utterly empty threats to steal a wooden pizza peel from our local.
Simply sausage and cheese.
But my birthday was six weeks ago, and I still have not made a pizza. I know, weird, right? Well, I guess I was just too busy making Pirate Cakes and Emergency Birthday Brownies and Pumpkin Scones and forgot entirely to cook anything which was not dessert in nature. What finally got me in gear was a recipe for crispy, thin, cracker-style crust. I know when I say "Chicago-style," you are going to visualize deep dish from Gino's or Giordano's. But the "Chicago-style" pizza I grew up with (from neighborhood joints like Romeo's, Palermo's, Phil's) was a thin pie, on a crackly-crisp crust made without yeast. For years, I tried repeatedly and failed to duplicate it, until I finally just got on with making pizza on a yeasty, bready crust (delicious enough, but not like home).

Cue the Test Kitchen. A week or two ago, the newsletter in my inbox showed me a pizza that looked like home. Now, they claimed it was "St. Louis-style," but whatever. Thin, cracker crust was all I could see. Of course, being a Test Kitchen recipe, there's a Secret Ingredient. There's always a Secret Ingredient. It's sort of their stock in trade. But this time, as soon as I read the recipe, I knew they were completely, totally, 100% right: cornstarch. Just two tablespoons, but what a difference.

And here's the bonus: since it's not a yeast crust, it's lightning-fast. No proofing, no kneading, no rising. Three minutes flat, and you're literally ready to roll. Like I said: Fastest. Pizza. Ever.

What You Need
  • Pizza sauce (chef's choice?)
  • Pizza toppings (guest's choice?)
  • Shredded cheese (mozzarella, provolone, romano, asiago, fontina--there is no wrong answer here)
Sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, black olives.
And cheese, glorious cheese.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS cornstarch
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup plus 2 TBS water
  • 2 TBS olive oil
What You Do
  1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it with the oven on the second lowest rack.
  2. Have the sauce, toppings, and cheese ready to go. This crust won't take but a minute or two.
  3. Whisk together dry ingredients in the bowl of the stand mixer.
  4. Combine the water and oil in a measuring cup.
  5. With the speed on medium-low, add the liquid all at once. Increase the speed slightly, and let the mixer knead the dough briefly. It should come together quickly, and be smooth. It should not be sticky or tacky. If your dough seems dry, add a teaspoon of water (not too much!). If it seems sticky, a teaspoon of flour. But don't over-fuss this.
  6. Separate the dough into two equal pieces. Each piece will make a 12-inch pizza.
  7. Generously sprinkle the pizza peel with cornmeal. Roll one piece of dough out on the peel, until you have a very thin circle. Make sure to shake the peel now and again to keep the crust from sticking, and add a pinch more cornmeal if necessary. You want that crust to slide right off the peel and onto the hot stone.
  8. Spread the sauce, add the toppings, cover with cheese to your heart's content, then slide the pie off the peel directly onto the hot stone.
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges of the crust are brown, and the cheese is beautifully melted with some delicious browned spots.
  10. Carefully remove the pizza from the stone using the peel. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting and eating.
What You Eat
I made two pies, one with tomato sauce, sausage, and cheese. The other pizza was lightly brushed with olive oil, then topped with sun-dried tomatoes, marinated articoke hearts, sliced black olives, and a generous quantity of cheese. Calories are presented here for a basic cheese pizza, topped with a simple tomato sauce and 4 ounces of shredded mixed cheese. One serving is two slices, or a quarter of the pizza. It's not really that big a pizza.

Calories 200 Protein 6.9g Vitamin B6 1.6%
Fat 6.8g Vitamin A 2.3% Folate 15%
Saturated Fat 2.4g Vitamin C 0.89% Vitamin B12 3.2%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.56g Calcium 16% Pantothenic Acid 2.0%
Monounsaturated Fat 3.3g Iron 9.4% Phosphorus 17%
Cholesterol 9.2mg Vitamin D 0.59% Magnesium 3.1%
Sodium 506mg Vitamin E 3.5% Zinc 4.0%
Potassium 72mg Thiamin 17% Copper 2.9%
Carbohydrate 28g Riboflavin 12% Selenium 18%
Fiber 0.98g Niacin 9.7% Manganese 11%
Sugars 1.5g

What You Learn
  • The cornstarch really is the secret ingedient. Don't skip it. It's the key to the crispy crust kingdom. According to the Test Kitchen, the starch absorbs moisture which keeps the crust crispy. Since it has no gluten, it also keeps what doesn't get crispy nice and tender. I totally agree.
  • However, I don't agree with the Test Kitchen's method of baking the pie. They advise a 475°F oven. Nope. Go with 500°F. You have to get that stone really, really hot to crisp and brown the crust.
  • The Test Kitchen also advises rolling out the dough on parchment, then sliding the parchment right onto the stone. Nope. Don't do it. I baked the first pizza on parchment at 475°, and it was nowhere near as good at the second pizza, baked directly on the stone at 500°. Not as crisp, not adequately browned.
  • They also suggest that you can slide the parchment onto an inverted rimmed baking sheet that has been preheated. I am not even going to try this. Mostly because I have no rimmed baking sheets. If it sounds like a plan to you, give it a go. Let me know if it works.
  • And if you have never tried the tomato, artichoke, and olive combination, you really should. I have served it to several assorted friends and have not met anyone who doesn't like it. A lot.

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